Abuse of S. 498-A IPC by making vague, omnibus allegations and roping in family members of husband: Courts to carefully scrutinize allegations
Shabnam Sheikh and Ors Vs State of Maharashtra and Anr
Bombay HC, Nagpur Bench
CRIMINAL APPLICATION (APL) NO. 114 OF 2014
About/from the judgment:
The Court made the observation while quashing an FIR alleging dowry harassment against the complainant woman's brother-in-law and sister-in-law, which the Court opined would be "an abuse of the process of law."
The High Court recently took critical note of the tendency to make vague and omnibus allegations of dowry harassment against every member of the husband's family, while quashing an FIR alleging dowry harassment by the in-laws of a woman for lack of prima facie case.
The Court held that,
"On overall reading of F.I.R. impugned and the charge-sheet, we are of the opinion that, there are no allegations against the present applicants which constitute offences alleged against the applicants. Hence, we are of the opinion that continuance of present proceedings would amount to an abuse of process of law."
While acknowledging that it has become necessary for the Courts to carefully scrutinize the dowry harassment allegations to find out if the allegations made really constitute an offence, the Court observed that,
"Nowadays, it has become a tendency to make vague and omnibus allegations, against every member of the family of the husband, implicating everybody under Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code."
The FIR in this case recorded offences under Section 498-A, (Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty), Sections 324 (hurt using weapons) and 506 (criminal intimidation) read with Section 34 (common intention for committing act) of the Indian Penal Code along with provisions of the Dowry Prohibition Act.
A plea was made to quash the criminal case against the in-laws, invoking Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
In dealing with the plea, the Bench acknowledged that should ordinarily avoid enquiring into the truthfulness of the allegations when considering a plea to quash criminal proceedings under Section 482 of CrPC.
However, when an FIR amounts to the Bench pointed out that,
"When the filing of F.I.R. amounts to gross misuse of the criminal justice system, it becomes the duty of the High Court to intervene in such cases, under Section 482 of CrPC so that there is no miscarriage of justice and faith of people in the judicial system remains intact."
Finding that the present case constituted a fit scenario to exercise this power, the Bench proceeded to quash the FIR against the sister-in-law and brother-in-law of the complainant, noting that,
"In the present case, sisters-in-law and brother-in-law have been arraigned as accused without there being specific allegations as regards the nature of cruelty, as contemplated by Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code against them."
The Bench also recalled the following principles set out in various precedents when it comes to the application of Section 498A of the IPC, i.e:
- Criminal proceedings should not be allowed to be resorted to as shortcut to settle the score. The Criminal Court has to exercise a great deal of caution. For the accused, it is a serious matter. Jurisdiction under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure has to be exercised to prevent abuse of the process of the Court or otherwise secure ends of justice (G Sagar Suri and another v. State of UP).
- The criminal justice system should not be used as a tool of arm twisting and to settle the score. The High Court can intervene where the criminal justice system is used as a tool (M/s.Indian Oil Corporation v. M/s. NEPC India Ltd., & others).
- The tendnecy of roping in all relations of the in-laws by the wife in the matter of dowry deaths or such type of similar offences in an over-enthusiasm and anxiety to seek conviction needs to be deprecated (Kailash Chand Agrawal v. State of UP).
- Relatives of the husband should not be roped in on the basis of vague allegations unless specific instances of their involvement are set out (K. Subba Rao v. Sate of Telangana).
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